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Many people including students of sociology often wonder about the relevance of social sciences especially sociology to health issues. In general, it is often a challenge to discuss the nexus between social science and health. Why medical sociology? What does sociology have to do with medicine or health?
This chapter aims to answer these questions. It starts with the meaning of sociology and its links to health studies—a definition and brief history of medical sociology and topic description of the discipline.
All health problems are conceived as social problems, which are the core focus of sociological studies. This chapter explains the characteristics of social problems with regard to health issues. Health problems are viewed as parts of social pathologies by advancing the sociological dimensions of health problems. The chapter then attempts to re-explain the topical description of medical sociology first advanced by David Mechanic in and includes some current issues.
The topical descriptions specifically include social aetiology of disease, cultural beliefs and social response to illness, sociology of medical care and hospitals, sociology of psychiatry, social transition and health care, traditional medicine alternative medicine , sociology of bioethics, health policy and politics, social epidemiology, sociology of dying and death, and medical education.
Many people including students of sociology often wonder about the relevance of sociology to health issues. These are some of the pressing questions that require explanations.
The fundamental problem starts with a lack of deeper knowledge of the meaning and focus of sociology. Therefore, it is necessary to proceed by defining sociology and briefly explaining some of its foundational focus. After this, its relevance to health will be explained. Sociology has been variously defined since Auguste Comte coined the term in Simply, sociology is the study of human society and social problems. Sociology is the scientific study of social relations, institutions, and society Smelser In addition, sociology can be defined as the scientific study of the dynamics of society and their intricate connection to patterns of behaviour.
It focuses on social structure and how the structures interact to modify human behaviour, actions, opportunities, and how the patterns of social existence engender social problems. Social institutions include kinship, economic, political, education, and religious institutions.
The institutions are like pillars that hold up society because they are the constituent parts of the social system society. These parts are interdependent and interrelated with specialised functions towards the survival of the society. This is why the human society is often referred to as a social system.
Every institution fulfils some functional imperatives. The family institution supports the procreation and socialisation of new members of society while the economic institution deals with the production and exchange of goods. The economic institution employs people from the family institutions, and the family in turn needs the goods and services produced by the economic institution.
The health institutions are organised to cater to the well-being and survival of human beings. Generally, sociology employs scientific approach to study and develops generalisations about human patterns, groupings, and behaviour. Social life is the most central part of the focus of sociology; it implies the connection which an individual holds with others in the society. To sociologists, social life or interaction is the essence of human existence. The process of social interaction itself may put individuals at risk of some communicable disease such as tuberculosis TB , severe acute respiratory syndrome SARS , and measles.
In terms of communicable diseases, mere contact with an infected person in the process of social interaction can normally put others at risk.
For instance, commercial sex work puts an individual more at risk of human immunodeficiency virus HIV than many other occupation groups: that is a kind of occupational condition, which is a risk factor for HIV. The historical focus of sociology is on social problems in human society. Social problems include health problems, crime , deviance, violence , poverty , inequality, population problems, delinquency, and institutional instability.
Social forces such as modernisation and industrialisation marked the beginning of unprecedented social alteration, especially since the beginning of the eighteenth century. This social change led to a number of problems as a result of changes in the relations of production. The industrial revolution led to new forms of production systems, community relations, migration , urbanisation , and especially new forms of employer-employee relations.
Industrialisation marked the overthrow of the family as an economic unit. This was a tremendous change in the social system with resultant consequences, hence emerging social problems such as unemployment, poverty, child labour , gender discrimination, crime, and health problems.
This is not to argue that all these problems only emerged during the industrial revolution , but they rapidly multiplied during that period. Social problems are conceived as strains within the system, seen as the product of certain objective conditions within the society, which is inimical or detrimental to the realisation of some norms or values for members of the society Lyman et al.
Any issue that threatens the well-being or survival of the society is regarded as a social problem. Weber , p. It is important to note that just as crime is damaging to the society or individual, so is any health problem. Apart from this fact, a social problem can be identified through the following characteristics, which include:.
It is an objective condition. This implies that it can be empirically defined. A social problem exists as a condition that can be verified. Even when subjective interpretation may be required, a social problem is an evidence-based problem, not just mere perception of an individual but a general knowledge that is usually definite.
This represents a utilitarian view, which holds that social problems are objective things, or what Durkheim regarded as social facts Smelser Smelser observed that the assertion is like the medical model which views social problems as a form of disease with an identifiable cause, definite symptoms, and calls for a cure.
It has social aetiology or could be linked to it. This implies that a social problem emanates from the pattern of social interaction, organisation, association, or simply is engendered by social conditions.
For instance, Wellcome , p. This means that the process of migration aids the spread of malaria. This is why Smelser also observed that the increasing world traffic of people would internationalise many health problems. It is for this reason that HIV, first diagnosed in the United States in the early s Jackson , is now a global problem. Moreover, some diseases are rooted in genetics or heredity, thereby multiplying through marriage patterns or human relationships.
Holtz et al. It poses social damage. A social problem often incapacitates the individuals in a society. As poverty prevents individuals from satisfying basic needs, so, too, health problems prevent individuals from functioning effectively as members of society. A health problem may reduce the functionality of an individual within the social system. Invariably, a social problem is inconsistent with the normative value of the society.
Society wants its members to be healthy, and the unattainability of this desire shows a discrepancy between social value and reality. Such a discrepancy represents a social problem. It affects the collectivity. A social problem is different from a personal problem in that the former affects a substantial number of people in the social system see Harris Health problems are ubiquitous like other problems such as crime and poverty. There may be a geographical variation in the magnitude or frequency, but most social problems are a pandemic.
It is thus a problem when a significant number of people believe that a certain condition is, in fact, a problem Kerbo and Coleman , and it constitute a problem to their social existence or wellbeing. It requires social action. Social problems require collective action. The solution to any social problem does not reside in just any individual; it requires the majority to act in order to ameliorate the problem.
It may necessitate institutional or community approaches. Health problems also require collective action. This is why there has been a lot of implementation of research and policy engagement to improve the health of the people. This is also why health issues often appear in development agendas. The aforementioned attributes qualify health problems as social problems. This is separate from the social dimensions of health problems, which will be examined later in this book.
Health problems can also come with other dimensions apart from the aforementioned attributes. It may not only be socially damaging but also biologically damaging. Often, a health problem may move from being biological pathology to social pathology or vice versa.
Whichever form it takes, it constitutes a pathology that must be remedied by the society. Sociology has been relevant ever since Comte conceived it as a science that would provide salvation from all the social problems confronting the world. Improved relevance of sociology in human society will alleviate human suffering and provide equitable well-being.
Therefore, the application of sociological methods and perspective and attention to the social dimensions of disease should provide a vital step forward in disease control. Apart from the fact that health problems constitute a major social problem, it is important to further stress the relevance of sociology to health.
First, in this case, it is human health. It is about the people, community, and society. The health of the society cannot be grasped without understanding the intricacies of the community or society itself. George Simmel conceived of human society as an intricate web of multiple relations—of people in constant interaction with one another Coser , of people who are bound with common fate, norms, values, socio-spatial conditions, exposures, and opportunities. It is about the health of people who build and share similar health institutions or who live, for instance, in an African rainforest where they are exposed to mosquito bites every day.
It is also about the health of the community that has access or otherwise to simple preventive measures for malaria or diarrhoea. Health is about the society where there is self-accountability to take up smoking and bear the associated health risks. As mentioned earlier, any issue concerning the social collectivity is of enormous interest to sociology.
Many people including students of sociology often wonder about the relevance of social sciences especially sociology to health issues. In general, it is often a challenge to discuss the nexus between social science and health. Why medical sociology? What does sociology have to do with medicine or health? This chapter aims to answer these questions.
To introduce theoretical perspectives within the sociology of health and illness and to apply them to selected health related issues. To appreciate the socially constructed nature of medical knowledge and medical practice To be aware of the relationship between and explanations for the social differences and inequalities in health, illness and disease. Feedback at University level can be understood as any part of the learning process which is designed to guide your progress through your degree programme by providing commentary on your work to date. So feedback means more than just written comments on written work. We aim to help you to reflect on your own learning and to feel clearer about your progress through clarifying what is expected of you informative and summative assessments.
As this definition suggests, health is a multidimensional concept. Although the three dimensions of health just listed often affect each other, it is possible for someone to be in good physical health and poor mental health, or vice versa.
The editors provide a blueprint for guiding research and teaching agendas for the first quarter of the 21 st century. In a series of essays, this volume offers a systematic view of the critical questions that face our understanding of the role of social forces in health, illness and healing. It also provides an overall theoretical framework and asks medical sociologists to consider the implications of taking on new directions and approaches. Such issues may include the importance of multiple levels of influences, the utility of dynamic, life course approaches, the role of culture, the impact of social networks, the importance of fundamental causes approaches, and the influences of state structures and policy making. Skip to main content Skip to table of contents.
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